Dementia sufferers have a huge impact on loved ones

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 31, 2006

In last week's column, Kate Millar drew our attention to those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's disease and brain injury. She reminded us that, all appearances to the contrary, their voice cries out from deep within, "I'm still here!"

Your responses could fill a book. Here's just a sample:

Your column on dementia brought to mind the final years of life for my auntie. She was in her 80s when she left this world, and although to many her exit was unkind, at the end of her life's journey, all that was seen to the eye was an elegant woman reduced to traits of infancy.

Her eyes were constantly searching, her body constantly moving, her mouth constantly yelling, calling out for those she was missing.

But I knew she was there.

Her eyes, her smile, her hand grip told me she knew who I was, though she was unable to show any other outward sign. She no longer had her earthly pain to deal with. She only knew love. That was because she gave love her entire life.

—Christine Bryant, formerly of Bragg Creek and now of Kelowna, B.C.

From Cochrane came the following note:

Last week's article touched me in the deepest part of my heart.

I was raised for the most part by my grandparents and as such they have always been more a mother and father to me.

In 1994 while my husband and I were living in Rochester, N.Y., I was walking through a book store and came upon a book called Something to Remember Me By. I started to read about the author's relationship with her grandmother and how it changed over the years until the point that the grandmother could not even remember her granddaughter. It wasn't until the end when the author realizes that, though her grandmother is now gone, she would always have a piece of her through her smile – it was her grandmother's smile.

My husband found me in that bookstore with tears streaming down my face. I never thought that five years later I would begin the journey of dementia with my grandmother.

At times, it is almost as if a window opens and for a few moments in time I get to see the amazing woman my grandmother was – intelligent, caring, loving, the string that held the family together. The window closes much too quickly, though, and I am left feeling almost as if she has died, again and again. She is still there, but now there is a shell of a woman who needs to be reminded to use a fork to eat, much as you would remind a child.

My children don't understand dementia. We talk about the disease and laugh at the silly things it makes her do, and we try to remember her before this disease stole her from us.

So many families are going through this, thinking that they are the only ones who have a loved one suffering from dementia. Articles like yours show us that we are not alone.

—Tami Netzband, Cochrane

Many of the responses I received indicated a desire for professional help in understanding dementia and Alzheimer's disease and how to be present to those so afflicted. One highly-regarded local resource is We Care Cochrane. Its manager, Sandie Hindes, says she is available to meet with people to discuss their concerns, "even if only as a 'sounding board.'" You can reach Sandie at 932-3784.

I'll close this week's column with the "Alzheimer's Prayer" (author unknown), forwarded to me by Cochrane coffee companion Sylvia Wylie:

Dear Lord, please grant my visitors tolerance for my confusion, forgiveness for my irrationality, and the strength to walk with me in the mist of memory my world has become.

Please help them take my hand and stay awhile, even though I seem unaware of their presence. Help them to know how their strength and loving care will drift slowly into the days to come just when I need it most. Let them know when I don't recognize them that I will... I will.

Keep their hearts free from sorrow for me, for my sorrow, when it comes, only lasts a moment, and then it is gone.

And finally, Lord, please let them know how very much their visits mean, how even through this relentless mystery, I can feel their love.

More on this next week.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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